Tag Archives: joseph gordon-levitt

Review: ‘7500’

Patrick Vollrath’s hijacking thriller 7500 starts out on a promising note. Through static security camera footage, we observe the process of a group of men as they prepare to board a plane, readying their homemade supplies and maneuvering through the airport with lethal anonymity. It’s a series of shots that emanates dread through its methodical pacing and absence of sound. It’s something that wouldn’t be out of place in, say, a cerebral Michael Haneke drama or even the pretext for a Jason Bourne-like action film.

Unfortunately, the remainder of 7500 doesn’t quite live up to the orchestral brilliance of these opening shots, perhaps because it then becomes confined to an airplane cockpit with very little room to breathe or expand. Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s emotionally draining performance aside, Vollrath’s debut film becomes suffocatingly ordinary as the tension rises and the stakes mount. As it grows louder, I only wished the masterful quiet of its opening scenes would return.

As the co-pilot of an airliner, Tobias (Levitt) is not completely out place in this Berlin-set destination. An American who has found a home and girlfriend with on-board flight attendant Gokce (Aylin Tezel), 7500 immediately sets the stage for a personal tragedy as mostly everything and everyone he loves is on board the flight. Friendly banter aside with his fellow pilot Michael (a very good Carlo Kitlinger in a brief but commanding role), Tobias is soon dealing with a barrage of men trying to enter the flight deck.

Via more grainy footage of the cock-pit entrance camera, Tobias is forced to watch and make some very difficult decisions as the hijackers use extraordinarily violent means to persuade the locks to come off.

Asked to scamper through an array of emotions, Gordon-Levitt (one of the more talented young actors of the last fifteen years or so) is extremely believable as a man under intense pressure to abide by the rules and save many while sacrificing a few. His performance is strong around a screenplay whose character reversals and heightened archs are commonplace tenets of action thrillers. If there’s any reason 7500 doesn’t fully take flight, it’s not on his shoulders.

The dangers of a single-set film — ruling out all those passionate plays transferred to film whose dialogue is enough to sear itself into one’s memory and eradicate their singular locales — rear their heads with 7500. It doesn’t feature searing dialogue or secondary characters prominent enough to make it anything more than an average examination of hard choices rendered during a violent crisis. It’s not long before the cockpit becomes exhausting, and not in a subversively good way either.

7500 opens on Thursday, June 18 via Amazon Prime Video.

Review: ‘Sin City: A Dame to Kill For,’ The More Things Change, The More They Remain the Same

'Sin City: A Dame to Kill For'
‘Sin City: A Dame to Kill For’
Ah, has it really been nine years since Sin City burst upon the scene?

Back in 2005, the trailers for Sin City looked like nothing I’d seen before, a phenomenal page-to-screen adaptation that captured the flavor of Frank Miller’s modern noir comic book series via the spendthrift imagination of filmmaker Robert Rodriguez. The look — blocky black and white graphics enlivened by bursts of color — remains embedded in my memory, along with a general disappointment that the story glorified old stereotypes without adding much more than a whiff of self-aware, modernist ridicule at its hoariness.

In the years since then, the film industry has adapted many of the techniques pioneered by Rodriguez and his collaborators, resulting in a flood of movies in which actors must compete with their digitized surroundings. Rodriguez himself has maintained his independent stance while unleashing a series of movies — Planet Terror, Shorts, Machete, Machete Kills — that proudly display absolutely no growth in his creative talents. He strikes me as a hard-working craftsman, a filmmaker who enjoys what he is doing, and is content to remain exactly where he is, making genre movies that never rise above the level of action programmers.

So maybe I should not be disappointed by Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, an average action programmer that looks different than most anything else made today, and plays much like every other action programmer made in the 1970s and 80s.

It’s important to note Rodriguez’ slant toward period filmmaking, since his collaboration with Miller freely wallows in gloriously excessive violence — made cartoonish by dint of the monochromatic palette — and carefully-shadowed nudity, nearly all of it courtesy of the gloriously-figured Eva Green. (Although, given the film’s flagrantly computerized dexterity, it may be Ms. Green herself plus a degree of digitized enhancement.)

The shame of it all is that Ms. Green, as well as Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Powers Boothe, are wasted in a movie that is entirely devoted to its look. Sin City: A Dame to Kill For brings back tough guy Marv (Mickey Rourke), who is effective, and damaged dancer Nancy (Jessica Alba), who is not, as well as power-abusing Senator Roarke (Boothe) and others. The idea is, evidently, to mix characters who are vaguely memorable from the first movie with newer personalities, but in the seamy criminal world created by Miller, everyone talks the same, and after a short while the people fade into the background.

What counts is the attitude, which is why Green, Gordon-Levitt, Boot, Rourke, Rosario Dawson, and Christopher Lloyd stand out, while the likes of Alba, Josh Brolin, Ray Liotta, Christopher Meloni, Jeremy Piven, Dennis Haysbert, and Jamie Chung do not. The first group of actors is comfortable hamming things up, while the secondary group gets lost because they underplay their roles. In this meticulously-landscaped environment, actors have to fight their way out of the background in order to make any kind of impression.

The movie is structured to emphasize its episodic nature, but Rodriguez, who photographed and edited the movie, is not terribly interested in the final impact; he’s fascinated by the intrinsic value of the journey, which does not translate very well for the rest of mankind.

The film opens wide in theaters across Dallas and Ft. Worth on Friday, August 22.

Interview: Joseph Gordon-Levitt Talks ‘Don Jon’ and Comparing Real Life To Pornographic Fantasies

Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Scarlett Johansson in 'Don Jon' (Relativity Media)
Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Scarlett Johansson in ‘Don Jon’ (Relativity Media)
I am terrible at starting conversations with strangers, especially strangers I’ve seen masturbate, but, fortunately, Joseph Gordon-Levitt is very good at interviews.

Don Jon showcases his skills as a triple threat: he wrote, directed, and stars as the titular character, a man who is not as grown up as he thinks he is. The movie is funnier and less sordid than might be expected when the lead character is someone who is obsessed with masturbating to pornography. He’s not the only one with a personal obsession, though, as he discovers when he begins dating Barbara (Scarlett Johansson), a strong-willed woman with her own ideas about happiness, and then later becomes friends with Esther (Julianne Moore), a sensible woman dealing with multiple issues.

One night in late August, Gordon-Levitt introduced the film to a packed auditorium in Dallas, and the following day sat down in a large, otherwise empty hotel meeting room for an interview with Twitch. He has a ready, disarming smile, and waits patiently through my extended introductory comments, in which I awkwardly attempted to establish common ground. (We both attended the same Los Angeles-area high school, though obviously many years apart.) Once I asked something vaguely about the movie, however, he picked right up on that thread to correct a mistaken impression I had (that Jon’s family is Italian).

To read the rest of the interview, please visit Twitch.

Review: Inception

Christopher Nolan's 'Inception'
Christopher Nolan's 'Inception'

It’s a magical mystery tour, a mathematical print by M. C. Escher, a family drama, and a suspense thriller, all wrapped up in one huge, dazzling package. It’s Inception, and it may blow your mind.

Or it may not. Christopher Nolan’s follow-up to The Dark Knight is strikingly reminiscent of The Prestige, his follow-up to Batman Begins. Filled with puzzles, populated with good actors, and hiding much of its intellectual heft beneath its distracting surfaces (like the iceberg in Titanic), the movie is challenging but not revolutionary. It feels like an extended, exhilarating roller-coaster ride that slows now and again, allowing time to think about the distance that’s been covered, and to take a quick peek ahead.

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